Bobby Hurley’s second year as the coach of Arizona State had minor improvements to the first. The Sun Devils’ overall record was almost identical (15-17 in 2016, as opposed to 15-18 in 2017), but their conference standings improved from 11th to 8th. Arizona State fans can hope that this slow growth can continue next season, but the team may have a difficult time doing so.
Despite not being the most talented team in the Pac-12 last year, Arizona State was one of the most experienced. Its entire starting lineup was made out of upperclassmen who were all solid players. The biggest issue however, is that the Sun Devils had a lack of depth, so they had to play a style that relied to heavily on these players.
Each starter averaged over 30 minutes per night, and towards the end of the year most were playing over 35 with some never sitting down. This reliance on their starters ended up being a handicap to the team during close games, and gave them virtually no chance against top teams who were able to bring in well-rested contributors frequently.
The Sun Devils’ system was interesting in the fact that it had sort of a backwards thinking viewpoint in putting such a heavy load on the starters, but the team was also forward thinking in its use of the three-point line. ASU finished 2nd in the Pac-12, and 19th in the country in three-pointers made.
On a better team, these three-point statistics would probably lead to a top team in the conference, but the Sun Devils were only in the top half of the Pac-12 in one other major offensive category: fewest turnovers. The team’s defense was also among the worst in both the conference and the country. Being a forward thinking team in understanding the effectiveness of the three-point line means little if the team is unable to excel at anything else.
ASU will have to change its system if it wants to succeed, and it has the perfect opportunity to do so in 2018. Only four regular rotation players are returning next season. These players will join Vitaliy Shibel, Romello White, and Mickey Mitchell, who each sat out for the 2017 season. The team also has a decent recruiting class with two four-star players and one three-star player joining the Sun Devils as freshmen.
ASU hasn’t been ranked since James Harden played there almost a decade ago in the 2008-09 season, and that likely won’t change in 2018. Bobby Hurley’s system over the last couple years has been one that could make for a fun team, even one that could take a good team to the brink on occasion, but it is not one that will make a true conference title contender. With quite a bit of a roster overhaul, the Sun Devils will have the perfect opportunity to change its system to emphasize using a full rotation and working on its defense. These hopeful changes will be a step in the right direction for Hurley’s team, but a shift will always be difficult at the beginning. Expect Arizona State to remain at the bottom half of the Pac-12 in 2018, but work towards a future that will hopefully lead to conference title contention in the years to come.